Letting swear words fly as you undergo physically demanding tasks can make you stronger, psychologists say.
Surprising? Maybe not, especially if you have the tendency to be a potty mouth. Sometimes, you just have to drop some f-bombs here and there. There are times when it's not appropriate, but there are also times when it just feels so right. Swearing can be a form of emotional release, and it's particularly satisfying when your emotions are quite strong.
Apparently, though, swear words may also have a physical benefit.
A study has found that swearing while undergoing a strenuous physical activity is quite beneficial. Psychologist Richard Stephens put participants in the research through demanding physical activities. 29 people with an average age of 21 went through a cycling test, while 52 people with an average age of 19 went through a hand-grip test.
Stephens asked one group of participants in each test to think of a swearword they would utter if they banged their head. The participants then repeated the swearword in an even tone as they underwent their tests. The other group had to repeat a neutral word.
Participants in the cycling test exhibited that they were stronger when they repeated the swearword compared to when they repeated the neutral word. The swearing group experienced a four percent increase in power during the first five seconds of the test. In the full 30 seconds of the test, the swearing group experienced a two percent power increase compared to the neutral group.
The hand-grip test groups, meanwhile, exhibited similar results. The swearing group's grip was eight percent stronger than that of the neutral group.
Why, then, does swearing make us stronger and more powerful? The researchers don't know the exact answer. Stephens says that the results of the tests don't confirm their hypothesis. The researchers anticipated physical indicators that uttering swear words will trigger a flight-or-fight response. However, the researchers didn't see those indicators. Another mechanism may be in operation, but the researchers aren't sure which.
Stephens puts two speculations forward: pain tolerance and generalized inhibition. Swearing may be able to increase pain tolerance, which allows people to perform better. Swearing may also indicate generalized inhibition. “In other words,” Stephens says, “you just don't care as much. You're not as self-conscious.” This may mean that the use of swear words has benefits beyond the physical.
Since the researchers haven't found the mechanism that makes swearing so helpful, they plan on conducting another study to find out. Stephens believes that “people swear for a reason”. Of course, we already know that a lot of us like uttering swear words, but it's worth getting to the bottom of the reasons why.
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